The Best Background Characters: Agent Harmon

Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.

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The Show:

‘Stranger Things: Season 4’

The Character:

Agent Harmon

The Scene:

Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight

Recently, I watched all four seasons of ‘Stranger Things,’ a show with a great many characters both major and minor, but one of whom stands out as one of the most awesome redshirts you’ll ever see on TV.

For those of you who are unaware, a Redshirt is a minor, typically unnamed character in a movie, show, or book who exists sorely to die and establish how dangerous a situation is for the main characters. Named after the famous crewmembers from Star Trek, they’ve become a joke in pop culture, and I was expecting the two government agents in the fourth season of Stranger Things to be the same.

Boy, was I wrong.

When military spooks break into Will and Jonathan’s house to kill them, I thought agent Harmon would quickly fall like his partner, leaving the boys to fend for themselves. But to my surprise, Harmon immediately morphed from an overweight, lazy, tv-watching agent into a stone-cold warrior who fearlessly takes on an entire squad of soldiers with only a pistol and wins. Granted, he doesn’t kill them all, but he does stop them from getting Will and the others, ensuring that they escape to find Eleven.

What’s so great about this scene is that even though we know so little about Harmon, we quickly become invested in his struggle because we subconsciously know he doesn’t have plot armor and could die at any time, making his fight even more engaging than the main characters who we know are going to survive until the climax of the story. He’s a redshirt who temporarily becomes a main character, one who is responsible for keeping the others alive… but, sadly, at the cost of his life.

Rest in peace, Harmon (AKA, Unknown Agent Hero Man). We only knew you for a few minutes, but you were unquestionably one of the biggest badasses in Stranger Things. If you had gone to the Upside Down with the others in the season finale, you’d have killed Vecna in seconds with that legendary pistol of yours and saved the world.

What We Can Learn From The Star Wars Holiday Special (For Real This Time)

Last year, I gathered all my courage, mourned not being able to watch The Incredible Hulk, and finally sat down to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, which is commonly called one of the worst moments in television history and one of the biggest missteps in the Star Wars franchise, sentiments that are completely and utterly 100% true. And while I played up this awfulness for comedic value, I figured it was time to actually write out what works well and what doesn’t in the special because, despite what pop culture might tell you, I was surprised to find that the special is… not that awful.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the special is not some misunderstood masterpiece that has aged like fine wine. It is a bad show with seemingly endless padding, almost ten minutes of non-stop Wookie gargling without subtitles, stirring and whipping, and the… inconsistent acting. And that’s before Leia breaks out into song. But as hard as it may be to believe, there’s also some good things, too: the lighthearted, feel-good music, seeing Luke, Leia, Han, and all the other classic characters doing their stuff, the 70’s style that saturates the whole thing, and some downright hilarious Youtube comments.

Now, lest you feel the temptation to actually sit down and watch the special (an endeavor I don’t recommend unless you’ve consumed copious amounts of alcohol) sit back and let me present to you the hard-won writing lessons I got from watching this piece of 70’s kitsch.

What does the story do well?

The core concept isn’t bad

Regardless of its execution, the story of the Holiday Special itself isn’t bad: During a period of galactic civil war, Chewbacca tries to get back to his family on Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, the most important holiday in Wookie culture. But it won’t be easy: the Galactic Empire is in hot pursuit of Chewie, and maintains a presence on Kashyyyk harassing the locals. Not only will Chewie and Han have to escape the Empire, but Chewie’s family will also have to outsmart and outwit the local Imperials before Chewie arrives so they can all safely celebrate. That’s not a bad story at all, which leads the Special to stand as proof that even the best story ideas can fail due to other circumstances.

It has a good introduction to Boba Fett

While fans generally agree that the Holiday Special is awful, there is also agreement that the best part is a short cartoon that features the first appearance of Boba Fett, one of Star Wars’ most famous side-characters. And they’re right! It’s a short, self-contained story that takes full advantage of it’s animated medium to create interesting and unique visuals that would be expensive to do in live-action, as well as give Boba a moral ambiguity that left first-time viewers wondering if he truly was an ally or someone nefarious, all aided by an excellent voice performance by Don Francks. Plus, hearing Darth Vader in any cartoon is always an excellent thing.

It shows what life is like for ordinary people in a sci-fi universe

If there’s only one thing the Holiday Special does well, it’s to show what life is like for ordinary, everyday people in the Star Wars galaxy, the folks who aren’t involved in the war, who aren’t firing blasters at Stormtroopers, and who just want to get through their day. We get to see cooking shows, what a Wookie home is like, the toys a child has in this galaxy, and what common people do to relax and have fun.

While showing ordinary life in a fantasy world sounds boring (don’t we indulge in fantasy to escape from everyday life?), it actually adds a lot of depth to that universe. Films and books typically devote little to no time showing what everyday life is like for people in fantasy worlds because of needing to focus on whatever is threatening that world. Devoting an hour and half to showing people buying and preparing food, playing, relaxing in bars, and celebrating holidays doesn’t bring in the big bucks at the cinema, after all, which makes these kind of stories rare, and even rarer in one of the biggest film franchises in history.

What could have been done to improve the story?

Everything

Okay, that’s too easy.

It could have cut out the Wookie porn

Unless it is a vital part of the story, we don’t need to watch an elderly Wookie getting sexually stimulated by softcore virtual pornography.

It could have cut out all the padding

On retrospect, I think one reason the Holiday Special earned such a disastrous reputation is that so much of it feels like padding. Part of this is due to the variety show format, but while parts of it are… tolerable… most are not, such as Malla stirring and whipping, and almost four minutes of assembling a transmitter. If these segments were removed and the story revised to focus on the holiday aspect, it would have been a stronger, more enjoyable tale.

It could have made the story more ‘holiday-ey’

While the slice-of-life format of the Holiday Special is a welcome change from the constant, non-stop war seen in all the Star Wars films, the holiday aspect feels almost non-existant. While it wouldn’t make sense for the Star Wars universe to just copy Christmas traditions verbatim, it would have been nice to see more holiday traditions throughout the special, such as festive decorations, gift-giving, etc. Even having Itchy, Lumpy, and Malla try to spread holiday cheer to the Imperials who come to their house would have helped embody the spirit of a winter holiday. As it is, the special’s only holiday aspect comes at the very end; while this works as the climax to the story, it would have been better to have more moments of festivity throughout.

Conclusion

While it deserves much of the negative reception it’s received, the Star Wars Holiday Special is, like every story, a product of its time. Where the rest of the Star Wars saga is a timeless story, the Holiday Special is a weird time capsule of the late 70’s, for better or worse, a time where where variety shows were viable entertainment, but starting their slide into obsolescence, and the Star Wars franchise was still trying to find its footing. And while there is a lot to dislike here, there’s still some good stuff, too. In a way, the Special is like our own holiday season: If we honestly search for things to be thankful for in a world filled with pain, suffering, and misery, we can find them.

Happy Winter Holidays, everyone.